The Jekyll and Hyde Parliament
Indian Express, May
During the Sixties,
it was popular in Britain to use the phrase ?Jekyll and Hyde?
politics to describe how the same party said one thing in
opposition and its contrary in office. The idea was that parties
behaved like reasonable angels in power and villainous devils in
opposition. Or, if you like, the other way around. The point was
that political parties were unprincipled in their parliamentary
behaviour. The view also was that there was little real
difference between the parties but still they had to pretend
that the differences were vast and irreconcilable .
That is very much the logjam in which the BJP/NDA government is
caught. It has been caught by surprise that an opposition which
had been thought to be decimated with the Congress having won
fewer than 10 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats should be so
effective at delaying and denying its proposed legislation. The
BJP itself had tried similar tactics during the UPA days but
rarely so successfully. The problem then was the indecisiveness
on the UPA?s part rather than any effective delay by the
opposition. It got, for example, both the Telangana Bill and the
Lok Pal Bill when it finally got round to introducing them.
The BJP has not been so lucky. It got the insurance and the
mining Bills through in the Winter Session but since then its
land Bill has foundered. This, however, should have been
anticipated. The government showed its lack of experienced
parliamentarians in that case. No one seems to have read the
small print of parliamentary procedure carefully and blithely
assumed that if the Rajya Sabha objects, a joint session of the
two Houses would be the way out. The other side has had more
experience and knew that it could stall but not vote down the
introduction of the Bill itself in the Rajya Sabha.
The bigger surprise is the GST Bill. In the case of the land
Bill, one could say that the BJP had signed up to the 2013 Bill.
Of course the BJP in power is a different party from the one in
opposition then. Even so, the changes are (quite rightly in my
view) real in the new Bill. The GST Bill should have been
allowed to pass in the Rajya Sabha by the Congress. Its
opposition in that case is contrary to what is after all a
genuinely consultative process which went into arriving at the
Bill. But with the Born Again Rahul Gandhi needing to revive his
career, Congress need to bare their teeth more often. It is a
loss for the nation and not much gain for the Opposition.
The unanimous support for the Bangladesh boundary Bill showed
that it is possible to take the Opposition along by giving them
their due credit and making the outcome an all-party
achievement. Sushma Swaraj is one of the few genuinely good
parliamentarians the BJP has, Arun Jaitley being another. By
mollifying Congress egos, Swaraj won and brought credit to the
Even so, the anomaly of the Upper House blocking the majority in
the popularly elected Lower House should not be lost. In the UK,
the Upper House being unelected, we know our limits. The Rajya
Sabha is indirectly elected, representing the federal element.
But the cycle of election to the two Houses is out of joint.
Thus those who represent state election mandates of the distant
rather than recent past can block the wish of the most recently
elected Lok Sabha. Whether anything will be done to synchronise
the timing of elections to the Upper House as compared to the
Lower House is anyone?s guess.
The larger issue is that urbanisation is growing both in
absolute terms and as percentage of the total. Urban areas get
under-represented. Yet it pays the politicians to pretend that
the rural areas are the majority. That is politics. There is
nothing else but hard climb up the learning curve for the BJP.
This news can also be viewed at: